Ottawa: Canada announced today it would buy 18 used Australian jets instead of new Boeing Super Hornets, signalling limits in its unwavering friendship with its US neighbour.
A little more than a year after saying it would buy 18 Super Hornets for more than USD 5 billion, and amid trade tensions, Ottawa formally rejected the deal in favour of used planes from Australia.
Senior government and military officials said the Australian F-18 fighter jets will fill an air force interim capability gap while Ottawa holds a competitive procurement process for a new fleet.
“We have received an official offer from the Australian government regarding the sale of 18 jets, and we intend to follow up on this offer,” Public Services and Procurement Minister Carla Qualtrough told a press conference.
Consultations with aircraft makers on the new fleet will begin in January, she said, before Ottawa launches the formal bidding in 2019 for 88 new planes.
The winning bidder will be expected to partner with Canadian aerospace firms.
A special clause requiring the successful candidate to also cause “no economic harm” to Canada appears aimed at disqualifying Boeing, which riled Ottawa when it launched a trade complaint against the nation’s largest manufacturer Bombardier earlier this year.
Qualtrough insisted that “no firm will be excluded” from the competition.
However, “bidders responsible for harming Canada’s economic interest will be at a distinct disadvantage compared to bidders who aren’t engaged in detrimental behaviour,” she added.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in 2015 scrapped three previous administrations’ plans to purchase state-of- the-art, but costly Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets to replace Canada’s ageing F-18 fleet.
Canada spent two decades helping to develop the stealth fighter with the United States and its allies.
But it is currently the only nation in the partnership not yet committed to buying the F-35s.
Trudeau had proposed picking up 18 new Super Hornets as a stopgap while it reset the competition.
But that deal fell apart after Boeing filed a trade complaint against Bombardier in an effort to keep Bombardier’s new CSeries jetliners out of the US market, resulting in 300 per cent duties being slapped on the planes.
“Attempts by Boeing to put tens of thousands of aerospace workers out of work across Canada is not something we look on positively,” Trudeau told reporters in October when he went to Washington to press US President Donald Trump on the issue.
“And I certainly mentioned that this was a block to us purchasing any — making any military procurements from Boeing.”
At the same time, ties with Washington have become strained over Trump’s hard line in trade talks, and the targeting of Canadian softwood lumber imports.
Military and procurement experts praised Canada’s decision to buy the used fighter jets for a tenth of the cost of the Super Hornets.